My apologies Dear Readers, if I’ve been out of the blogging loop lately. I have been hip-deep into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal there is to write a first draft of a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Brief note, in case you’re interested: I’m currently over 29,000 words, and am on track to finish by November 25, a few days early! It’s been an interesting experience, as I really haven’t written any long fiction like this since before I got paid to write, and this will be the longest work I’ve completed, ever. So this is a growth opportunity.
One thing I did transfer from my technical writing life to fiction writing was my habit of research. I needed a quick-and-dirty way to structure my work time and make sure I get things organized before I jumped in willy-nilly. I found a good method from someone I tutor in English a couple times a month. She’s trying to write children’s stories, and she found something called the Snowflake Method, which is a build-by-steps process of growing a narrative. Basically, you start with your “high concept” (or what I call the TV Guide description) and build out your plot, characters, and scenes from there. You can refer to the link for more details, but the point I wanted to make from the technical writing point of view is that if you’ve been doing TW for a number of years, you can apply the same systematic tools and structures that allow you to build large, complex work documents to the Great American Novel.
Outlining is a primary tool that tech writers use, and that outline usually starts with one or two important questions. Once you know what you’re writing and for whom, you can usually start structuring your document by heading, making certain that the content has a flow that makes sense for the context at hand.
Another advantage I found with outlining is that I’ve avoided (for the most part) writer’s block. I’m exceeding my “quota” of words every night—you need to hit 1,667 words per day to kick out 50,000 in 30 days—and that quota is reached by knowing what I have to write every night. A more creative-writing friend of mine called outlining “cheating” because I already know the ending. Not so! I have a general trajectory in mind, I know what sorts of things I want to say, and I know what sorts of material I have to work with along the way. Does having an outline and an ending in mind mean I know exactly how things will read at the tail end of this narrative? No, because my characters might do things that I don’t expect or I realize later that a minor action will cause them to react in ways that will affect the final outcome. Nevertheless, if I approach the work with an overall outline/structure in mind, it’s really just a matter of filling in the content blanks.
Think of it this way: you have some instructions to build an airplane, bookcase, etc., and you know that certain steps are required for the overall assembly. So you lay out your “narrative” first, using headings and/or prompts to yourself to remind yourself what needs to happen in each section. From there, it’s just a matter of contacting your subject matter expert to fill in those blanks. In the case of a novel, the headings/prompts are your chapter names or scenes; YOU are the subject matter expert; your characters and plot are the content.
Instead of building an airplane or developing a procedural document, you’re telling a story, your story, and your first customer is you.
Go get ‘em! 🙂